In an unanimous ruling the Supreme Court declared that naturally occurring human genes can’t be patented. The case is Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.
Myriad Genetics had patented two human genes linked to an increased likelihood of developing breast cancer but it was argued that naturally occurring things can’t be patented. The Supreme Court agreed simply isolating something in nature is not patentable.
Myriad did not create or alter either the genetic information encoded in the BCRA1 and BCRA2 genes or the genetic structure of the DNA. It found an important and useful gene, but groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the §101 inquiry. […]
Nor do we consider the patentability of DNA in which the order of the naturally occurring nucleotides has been altered. Scientific alteration of the genetic code presents a different inquiry, and we express no opinion about the application of §101 to such endeavors. We merely hold that genes and the information they encode are not patent eligible under §101 simply because they have been isolated from the surrounding genetic material.
The court did, though, conclude that artificially created cDNA could be patented because it does not occur in nature and is something new being created. This was seen as a compromise by the court and partially good news for Myriad.
In the short term this decision should make it significantly cheaper and easier for people to get tested for particular genetic problems. One company can no longer dictate how people can be tested for a genetic disease. This decision will likely have significant implications for researchers and health care companies.
Theoretically, this ruling should make it easier and less expensive to enter an era of truly personalized medicine where treatment is tailored to each individuals genetic profile.
Photo by Josh*M under Creative Commons license